November 2013 | Nutrition Specialist for UNICEF/South Africa
Chantell Witten grew up on the Cape flats in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. She completed her high school studies at Belgravia Senior Secondary School and her post graduate studies in Nutrition at the University of the Western Cape. She is now the Nutrition Specialist for UNICEF/South Africa based in Pretoria where she is responsible for advancing the Child Nutrition agenda in South Africa with particular focus on programmes to improve infant and young child nutritional status. These programmes are on improving exclusive breastfeeding practices for infants 0-6 months, improved complementary feeding practices for children 6-24 months and micronutrient deficiency control programmes to address the vitamin A and iron deficiency amongst children under age 5 years.
1) Briefly describe what your job involves.
Much of my work involves engaging government and other agencies to raise the profile for Child Nutrition Programmes and interventions to improve the nutritional status of all children in South Africa. I provide technical support on policy, programme implementation and advocacy.
2) What would a typical day at the office entail?
The better half of my day is spent on responding to email requests and queries regarding child feeding programmes, food products for distribution and updated information on global nutrition interventions to improve infant and young child feeding. I attend a number of technical working group meetings on child health and nutrition. I am often requested to do presentations at academic meetings, policy discussions and programme reviews. I travel extensively within South Africa and need to complete a trip report for each trip undertaken. My administrative duties include grant management, drafting reports on programme implementation, reviewing proposals and planning for future work.
3) Can you describe the most exciting part of your job?
Knowing that my efforts are contributing to the health and wellbeing of children in South Africa.
4) What would be your favourite part of your job?
Advocating to and convincing new stakeholders why they should prioritize and invest in programmes to improve the nutrition status of children in South Africa.
5) What would be your least favourite part of your job?
The administrative duties of managing a grant and processing paperwork.
6) How did you make your career choice?
I always wanted a career to help people and improve their lives. Health is our most valued commodity and a career in health science was a perfect option for me.
7) What qualifications do you require to work in your field?
A degree in Human Nutrition or Dietetics with at least a Masters in Science or Public Health.
8) Can you describe the most important skills you require for this work environment?
Advocacy skills to sell your message or programme and relationship management skills to manage and get the best from all the different stakeholders you get to work with and for.
9) What does leadership mean to you?
To be proactive and a driven individual to bring about a positive change in one self and the larger community.
10) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM)?
Invest your time well in working hard at your studies at school, it will pave the way for when you reach university. And to make it easy, find a good mentor to guide and support you. It usually takes a team to achieve success.